Jan 12, 2010

Four levels of "selling" on LinkedIn

You're hearing everywhere that you can't do business without Twittering, being on LinkedIn (LI) and Facebook, starting your own online community -- anything dubbed Web 2.0.

Let's not take it so seriously. I'll give you my take on social networking to expand business.It's based on no actual research, but I have collected comments from members of a number of LinkedIn groups about what constitutes discussion and what does not.

LI discussions are like being at a party, chatting about work and problems you're grappling with, then along comes someone bragging in a loud voice, wearing a sandwich board advertising a product or service, shaking hands and passing out brochures. You hope he won't barge into your discussion or that she leaves soon. They obviously don't get how to act at a social gathering, you think, and couldn't someone explain it to them?

I manage the AME LI group and delete "discussions" that feel like advertising every day. I e-mail most of the people who post them and explain why I have deleted their posts. Since I stretch the definition of "News" pretty far, so I usually ask them to re-post the message there. Sometimes, as Gilles and Roger did last week, they ask for advice on how to present their message in a more acceptable way.

We stumble because what we learned about marketing is useless in social media. That approach doesn't belong at the party. I find my own posts need a lot of editing to get rid of the marketing overtones. We're all trying to figure it out.

I suggest a four-level approach to marketing yourself, your product, your service, or an idea on social networking sites like LinkedIn. Here's how the steps progress:

1. Credibility and recognition.
2. Talking about yourself.
3. Selling.
4. Shortcuts.

It's a slow, careful, intuitive, and indirect process based on pull. If you want to move faster, skip to #4. Better to buy an ad than to be perceived as someone barging in with that loud voice and sandwich board.

1) Credibility. At the party, you respond to a conversational topic or open one yourself. People can share or just listen. It becomes clear who knows their stuff, who has experience, and who asks good questions. The same is true in a social network discussion. Every time you speak, your picture and name are displayed -- your face and your name tag -- and you make your impression, for good or ill. You can build credibility among your peers as people in the group get to know each other, even taking their discussion offline to e-mail, phone calls, or face-to-face meetings.

2) Revealing. At a party, you wait until it's appropriate to talk about yourself. Usually it's when someone asks. The way it works in social media is that, as your credibility evolves, people click though to your profile page. They choose to find out as much or as little about you  as they want to know and you want to share.

On your profile page, you describe your strengths, what you do best and want to do more of. You share your work history and what value you've provided to your employers. You show the progression in your career, greater responsibilities, more expertise. You get recommendations from people you've worked with and give them recommendations as well. (Don't try to game the system, keep it honest.) Include your picture.

I see a lot of profiles. Some read like a press release. Some read like a resume. Some have more personality. I don't have a particular opinion on that except to avoid being frivolous -- it depends on the persona or brand you are presenting. If writing is not your strength, get help and feedback before you post. No matter how good your writing is, proofread! You'd be amazed how many people show up at the online "party" with egg on their tie or toilet paper on their shoe. It's enough to make an editor lose her mind.

On your LinkedIn profile, you subtly open the door to the selling process when you post a link to your website or your blog. Does your visitor begin to respect and trust you even more? That's the person who may want to know about your company or, best case, is in need of the product or service that feeds your bottom line.

3. Selling.
Now that the self-selected trusting and interested potential customers are on your website, you are perfectly free to talk about your product, features, case studies, and anything else your website strategy deems important. Continue the trust-based relationship by offering white papers, having effective ways for people to contact you and simply discuss problems. It's OK to give away information. Make it easy to contact you.

4. Shortcuts.
Use the "News" section to announce your webinars, blog posts, new products, and so on. These posts are not discussions, even if they end with "what do you think?" And, as I mentioned, you can buy a pay-per-click ad, highly selective about what audience it shows up for.

How do you know what's working? It helps if you can have a "do good, and good will come to you" philosophy. You can get data, but be careful about what conclusions you draw. If you start a discussion you can see how many comments it draws. If you post a news item, you will see how many views it gets compared to others. Look at the difference between items that garner 50 views vs. those that get 5. That gives you a shadowy indication of how effective your voice is.

What's the best outcome of social networking? You learn. You learn about the problems people have, and the pain or frustration it causes them. You could learn about a widespread diversification opportunity. Learn what's new in the market you are tapping through your social networking. Is your product or service as great as you think it is? It takes humility.

And what about lean? Well, you have two different markets, the doers and the decision makers, with different needs and motivators. Online or on site, in an email or in the elevator, look at the four steps.

Credibility and recognition -- prove lean's value in a pilot. Speak in the language your customers use. Don't use the word lean if it creates resistance. Comment on strategic planning, if that's the lingo, not hoshin kanri. Continuous improvement, not kaizen. Making work easier, not 5S.

Revealing. Let people know who you are, what you've done, but in an appropriate way. Look for pull.

Selling: Find the pain and embed an emotional dimension to your message. Have the facts and figures for the engineers and financial folks. Tell stories. Offer to help. Decisions have many dimensions.

Shortcuts: Be careful. There might not be any.


Jamie Flinchbaugh said...

Great comments Karen. You really bring a lens of value and a process mentality to the topic of online interaction and social media.

Now, to grade myself..do I really want to know?

Anyway, I think to keep things simple, if you ALWAYS focus on providing value to others, then it is hard to get too far off course. That's my golden rule. I don't keep score. I don't look for reciprocity. In the end, I trust it all works out.

Jamie Flinchbaugh

Unknown said...

Good info Karen and well-presented. You hit all the important points. I agree that selling can't be rushed on social media, it has to be based on developing relationships, just like successful selling anywhere else.

Tom Sutherland said...

I might be the odd one out here but I don't mind relevant advertising.

In other words, if I am on a Project Management discussion board and someone is selling something PM related that may add value to me I want to see it.

After all, I don't have to click on it if I don't want to so I am not sure the social media police are really doing anyone any justice.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comments Jamie, Alison and Tom. As Jamie would have it, there doesn't have to be "selling" at all. Alison makes a good point, that selling in any medium is based on relationships. Tom, thanks for reminding us that people are different and what's annoying to one person is informative to another.

Tim McMahon said...

I enjoyed this. There really isn't much literature available on this topic from non-marketing people. Your analogy is a good one becase it illistrates the process of creating a relationship with people. I think becasue people aren't face to face they can be impersonable, missing the part of building a connection. It is really about respect for people and you do that by creating relationships built on honesty, trust, and value.

Tim McMahon
A Lean Journey Blog

Joe said...

Terrific post, Karen. Very level-headed and non-hyped. Thanks for the thought that went into it.

Makes me wish my old buddy from high school who keeps offering me "terrific opportunities" in mult- level marketing would read this...maybe I'll send him the link??!!!

Mark R Hamel said...


This was a very helpful post. While I am no spring chicken from a business and Lean chronological perspective, I am a bit of a rookie when it comes to social networking.

Much of what I have seen in LinkedIn is good. However, the more than occasional naked self-promotion makes me cringe. It can be pretty tawdry. I don't want to be tawdry.

Your post articulates more than just some thoughtful steps, it prompts some emotional intelligence in a virtual world.

Now if I can figure out if I really want to ever Tweet...

JM Raventos said...

Excellent post. I'm new in the use of socialmedia (in Spain is still something starting-up). It help me to understand how to take advantadge of it and the rules.
JM Raventos

Unknown said...

Thanks for all your comments -- I'm glad you found something useful in the post. I've been reading "Trust Agents" by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith that might be a good source to try, or just get on Chris's newsletter list.

I didn't get my comments from the book, but if I had, I couldn't pick a better book to steal from.

It's all relatively new and the culture of social networking is evolving around us. I'm getting a lot out of it, so will share some more thoughts in future posts.


Steve Halpin said...

Hi Karen,

I found this post really helpful.

I am not comfortable with social networking.
I joined facebook and ended up deleting most notifications as they just weren't relevant.
I find LinkedIn useful mainly to keep in touch with a huge network of old colleagues.
Maybe I'm reading the wrong tweets? butI find Twitter really tedious and haven't signed up.

I love the analogy of a social function. That will help with future posts.

Excellent Blog

Unknown said...

Hi Steve, I sympathize with your discomfort with social networking. I like facebook when I want to know what my son and daughter-in-law are doing, and to hear from friends and family on fun stuff. It might gain importance for business, but I wouldn't make it a professional tool.

Twitter is trivial enough to ignore. I'm just doing it for the sake of doing it and to maintain my facade as a social networking guru.

The power of LinkedIn is in the groups, which vary in quality and activity. We've had some great discussions in AME. There is also the Q/A feature which takes awhile for users to even find. The caliber of members is outstanding.

Unknown said...

A good perspective, Karen.

I like how you presented it as a party. I'm into Facebook and I experienced receiving notifications on things that I don't even care about. And it annoyed me until I explored the privacy and features settings. I'm into chocolate product business, and along with my college buddies, I'm planning to expand it. So we decided that we wanna put up our own website. And we're asking some web architects for the social network design. We want our target customers to join in the site and discuss their chocolate experiences and interests.

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